I ate a lot of Goldfish crackers growing up — and a lot of boiled crabs. As much as I loved each of them, I don’t think I ever had occasion to eat them together, but that hasn’t stopped Pepperidge Farms and Old Bay from teaming up to make Old Bay-flavored Goldfish. I admit I’m intrigued, and they nailed the package design. It really evokes that squeaky yellow metal can.
This limited-edition flavor sold out online in just nine hours, but it's now available at retailers nationwide.
I’ll get to the taste test in a minute, but this got us thinking: How many flavors of Goldfish crackers are there in this crunchy school of fish? We decided to check out the whole range for a definitive ranking of this tiny icon. I talked with Campbell’s, the maker of Goldfish, about the upcoming 60th anniversary of the crackers, and the company told me it now makes more than 25 varieties, totaling 187.6 billion individual crackers every year. Although you might think of them as kiddie fare, they’ve been to outer space at astronaut request, and some of their limited edition flavors are very grown-up indeed. In fact, Campbell’s says teens rank them as their No. 1 snack brand, and nearly half its sales are to households without children.
Who makes the grade? Let’s put them to the test!
These are the tastiest plain old oyster crackers you’ll ever have. I would have bet these were American through-and-through, but according to Campbell’s, the Goldfish cracker was invented by Swiss cookie manufacturer Oscar J. Kambly in honor of his wife’s astrological sign, Pisces, and first sold under the Pepperidge Farms label in the US in 1962. They contain a little protein in the form of milk, but no cheese, so if you are extremely tangy-averse, these might be your Goldfish of choice, and they make a great soup or salad garnish. Otherwise, though, there’s not enough “there there” to serve as a stand-alone snack.
Cheddar & Whole-Grain Cheddar
This flavor and color are so iconic and ubiquitous that many assume it’s the true original, but Campbell’s told me it was actually introduced four years after the initial five flavors of Original, Cheese, Pizza, Barbecue and the vintage flavor I most wish I could time-travel to try: Smoky.
The cheddar powder is baked right in, so it has a toasted quality that is hard to reproduce with added flavorings, and there’s no messy powder coating. They’re not greasy like chips, either, despite the cheese. The Whole Grain version is one of the best-tasting, healthy-ish whole-grain cracker options out there, with a fine texture and no attempt at the usual healthy food devil’s bargain: the addition of sugar to tempt the little ones. It might be my imagination, but it seems like the Whole Grain ones hold their smiles a little better than average, too.
Grade: A. Actually, the Whole Grain gets an A+.
Literally a pale imitation of the cheddar. The Parmesan bite is definitely present, mostly at the back end. They’re good, but like Parmesan itself, generally more appropriate for a garnish than by the handful.
It may be one of the original five flavors, but I can’t understand the lasting popularity. As with most things I don’t like, my main issue is that there’s not enough cheese; they mostly taste like pizza sauce, heavy on the tomato paste and celery seed, which is somewhat credibly standing in for uncured pepperoni. It may just be that they are tied together in my memory, but eating these is reminiscent of nothing so much as a scratch-and-sniff sticker of a slice. If pressed, I’d say the pizza brand they most taste like is the Chef Boyardee kind, out of the box.
To their credit, these two varieties use the ingredients from the flavor names, but not as successfully as the Cheddar. The flavors are too aggressive to eat more than just a few, although they work well in the new Goldfish Mixes or added to trail mix and bento box lunches.
Absolutely not. Regardless of shape, pretzels are objectively the worst snack. Making them into a fish shape in a cruel parody of a beloved childhood experience adds insult to injury. Oh, these are your favorite and you want to tell me all about it? Sure, just dial 1-800-COME-ON-MAN to lodge a complaint.
These are cute, but essentially the same cracker as the Cheddar, just very slightly smaller.
Currently available in Sharp Cheddar and Jalapeno Cheddar, these have great crunch, and I love the spiciness in the latter flavor. They’ve got an element of flavor-blasting to them, though, so they’re a bit messy, and they’re the saltiest of all the varieties. No reason to outmatch the sodium to the size of the bite.
It’s not the size of the cracker that matters, though; it’s the savor of the flavor. I would probably prefer these two if the seasoning were tweaked a bit, but they’re solid offerings, and they allow for more interesting artistic expression with your food-related mosaics.
Campbell’s says these are one of its best-selling lines. They come in several flavors, including Xtra Cheesy Pizza, Cheddar & Sour Cream, Sour Cream & Onion, and several names for cheddar each more ridiculous than the last. The sour cream-based flavors are very tangy and not available un-blasted, so if that’s your jam, you might choose these. The other flavors are just saltier, sandier versions of Pizza and Cheddar in my opinion, marketed to children bent on total destruction and adults who feel like the regular ones aren’t edgy enough. Your validation comes from inside, my friend — opting for these just makes you look desperate. If you give these to kids for a running-errands snack, your living room carpet, all of your child’s pockets and the back seat of your car are going to be covered in a thin layer of salt and crumbs guaranteed to settle into every crack and crevice, making them eternally and irretrievably dirty. If you’re choosing this cheap and tawdry debasement of the real deal as a grown-up, you’re just going to feel that way.
My most vehement fish cracker-related ire is reserved for these little heretics. Unworthy of the name Goldfish, they are blobby, too sweet and insufficiently crispy. They only smile on one side. The orange fish on the front lies — there’s nary a hint of the color inside — and the package is (gasp!) foil, instead of the absolutely non-negotiable familiar white paper. They come in flavors that change with the wind — S’mores, Chocolate Brownie and Vanilla Cupcake for now — but seasons past have seen others like Honey, Chocolate Chip and Cinnamon. They are definitely more of a cookie than any kind of cracker, like Teddy Grahams for people with a bear phobia. According to the ingredient list, they are made with at least 50% whole-grain flour, but they are 0% Goldfish.
The flavor is very similar to the regular Cheddar, and the colors are beautiful and naturally derived from plants. The whole-grain version is great, no grainy texture, strong cheddar flavor and a little bit more nutritious; in fact, they’re so successful that I don’t know why they bother making the refined grain ones. If you have an avowed vegetable-hater in your house, your first step to getting them to consider eating some might be a familiar food with vegetable-adjacent colors like green and red. I solemnly swear they do not taste like beets.
Finally, we come to the newest novelty version of the Goldfish cracker: Old Bay. I talked to Old Bay’s parent company, too, McCormick, and a spokesperson told me that the seasoning remains true to its 80-year-old roots with the same blend it has always had. Although named for Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, 70% of its sales were to regions outside the mid-Atlantic last year, and it's hoping this Goldfish pairing will introduce even more potential customers to its signature spice blend. So, is the new flavor all it’s crackered up to be? Goldfish uses the honest-to-goodness Old Bay, and you can see it on the outside.
The flavor is so evocative of a certain childhood meal that I almost feel like they are crab-flavored, which isn’t bad, but it is weird. After eating a few though, I got used to the idea, and before I knew it, I was downing them by the handful. Just enough spice, and they use the celery seed more successfully than the Pizza flavor. I think these would be ahh-mazing crushed and incorporated into crabcakes (or crabless cakes) in place of breadcrumbs. (There are other recipes on the Old Bay website, too, but be forewarned that some of them are … questionable … like the Old Bay Hot Chocolate or the Old Bay Bacon Streusel French Toast, both so mind-bending that I’m tempted to serve them together at brunch. Nobody tell my husband.)
Previous limited-time flavors have included Frank’s RedHot and Jalapeno Popper, both of which were delicious. Featured flavors and shapes make fun mini-gifts for fans of whatever they’re co-promoting. They’re limited-time offerings, so it keeps the brand fresh and interesting, and when any special seasoning is a bit in-your-face, you don’t have time to get tired of it before it’s gone. Kids and superfans will appreciate shapes like Mickey Mouse heads and Baby Yodas in their hover strollers. Whether you’ll like an individual flavor depends on your preferences, but in general, Pepperidge Farms does a good job incorporating the real flavors shown on the label, rather than just giving them a nod to score marketing points (I’m looking at you, Mountain Dew Flamin’ Hot!). In addition to the fun, there’s pairing and recipe starter potential.
Even though Cheddar Whole Grain is our valedictorian, there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one variety in the house. Play with your food! In addition to their artistic value, they even have educational content. What other cracker lets you make a little tableau of a food chain, from plant to little fish to bigger fish to mega fish?